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"I believe that education is the civil rights issue of our generation." – U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan, October 9, 2009

Choosing a Major—Students Shy Away from STEM Degrees

If you are a freshmen about to start your first year of college, your biggest question might be, “What should I major in?” In thinking about your future, you may want to consider a degree that will lead to careers expected to be in high demand after you graduate. According to the article STEM Education Is the Key to the U.S.’s Economic Future, Bachelor’s degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math lead to careers that are becoming increasingly in high demand and offer pay even higher than those who receive Master’s degrees in non-STEM areas. Despite the positives, these careers are left vacant. Why do people shy away from such promising careers? The article presented the notion that perhaps these positions are left unfilled due to a lack of education and skills required to work in these fields.

Drawing on this notion, I wondered why students tend to choose majors in non-STEM areas over STEM areas. I took a step back and reflected on why I did just that. The first thing that came to mind was the lack of confidence I had in my math and science skills. I never felt like I had a natural ability for math or science. In fact, building these skills took above-average effort, often leading me to seek help outside of school hours from teachers and tutors. I think the fact that these subjects never came naturally deterred me from STEM fields and pushed me toward a field I had a natural talent for. After all, many people find comfort and feel better about themselves when doing something they are good at.

America is looking to build up its workforce in STEM fields so that it can compete globally. In this pursuit, I think a thorough analysis of student’s choices of majors and careers should be done. The reasons for my shying away from STEM fields are just one example, and other students may have made their choices for very different reasons. No matter what, all factors should be taken into account, and tactics to fill STEM positions can be devised based off of these findings. If we find that students lack interest or knowledge of STEM areas, we can try to instill passion for these fields by introducing the topics in fun and interesting ways to young children. If a lack of confidence in scientific and mathematical abilities is at fault, we could direct our efforts toward better preparing children for higher education in these fields. We could always “cheat the system” by offering extra scholarships for individuals in those fields. Offering scholarships is definitely a way to draw people to the field; however, I think we need to be sure that students are entering the field for intrinsic reasons and not solely due to financial assistance. Personally, I believe that people perform their best when they have a genuine interest and passion for what they do. Is this not the kind of STEM workforce we want to build?

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2 thoughts on “Choosing a Major—Students Shy Away from STEM Degrees

  1. Pay the STEM people some money once they get out there. I’ve considered leaving software engineering to become a nurse for the pay raise.

  2. As a student at a technology-oriented school, I find that very few of my peers are motivated by money. Instead, they work because they have found something that inspires them. In high school, students are not exposed to the most beautiful, cutting edge parts of science. Instead, we were taught formulas and the beauty of the subjects was occluded by drudgery! There was no room for creativity.

    STEM fields require as much creativity as English, but in high school, students can only wield creative freedom in an art or english class, being forced to “follow the book” in science. This was part of what initially discouraged me from science, the thought that I would be a glorified calculator if I chose to pursue this field.

    If only more high schoolers were able to experience the freedom of science! I think that would inspire them to pursue STEM majors in college.

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